My friends Christie, Harriet, and I drove to Memphis on Saturday afternoon, easily located Nesbit Park for packet pick up, had dinner at a nice restaurant, and settled in for the night at the Fairfield Inn. It would be their first trail 25K.
I had been looking for a beginner-friendly 50K trail course. I've run 3 true trail marathons and one that was partly trail, partly gravel road, and I felt ready for the next step distance-wise. I initially planned to run the Stump Jump 50K in October, but after finding out how many people I know who are faster than me who didn't make the time cut off due to the difficulty of the course, I decided that wouldn't be a wise first 50K.
Stanky Creek, formerly the Bartlett Park Ultra 50K course, is very runnable with little elevation change. It is a 7.4 mile loop run 4 times, plus a short 1.5ish loop done only at the start. Here is the elevation profile of the main loop that we repeated:
Pre-race pic of us in our Middle Tennessee Trail Runner shirts On the back is a quote by John Muir: "Of all the paths you choose in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.":
The 50K started at 7:00 a.m. The weather was just about PERFECT for Tennessee in September-- 56 degrees at the start and about 78 at the finish. I put myself in the back of the pack. The 1.5 mile loop went quickly, including a beast of a hill I hiked up. I purposely went out GENTLY. A quick trip back through the parking lot, and we started the first 7.4 mile loop. I immediately noticed the course looked very much like my hometown Rotary Park, where I have done many, many training runs. I felt right at home! The first 7.4 mile loop seemed very long. I ran with a girl named Amanda for about one mile, then no one. I was careful to take in carbs every 45 minutes early on. I started with my favorite Strawberry Huma Chia gel and consumed Skratch lemon lime hydration. Both are very gentle on the stomach. In the last half of the loop, some really fast 25K runners began passing me. I was happy to see Adam from MTTR in 5th or 6th place. We crossed this creek near the end of the loop:
It was definitely an odd color, but it didn't seem "stanky" to me. Both shoes and socks got very wet. The hardest part was getting up that hill on the other side. It was steep and muddy and now my shoes were wet and muddy, so finding a foothold was tough. I had to plant my hands in the mud to get up it that first time. The loop ended, and I was back in the parking lot at my little personal aid station. I grabbed a couple more gels and refilled my bottle with Skratch.
Loop 2 was probably my toughest of the day. At this point all the fast 25K people started passing me. My left ankle and Achilles and knee all started to hurt. My knee felt like it had a catch in it. I tried not to think about it. My ankle and Achilles had hurt on all trail runs lately, so I wasn't surprised. I just wondered how bad the pain would get. I ran this entire loop alone. I was starting to get a little lonely and lose focus. I knew I had a LONG way to go. I knew that I needed to just run one loop at a time, but my legs were feeling a bit tired. I decided that I would turn on my music after finishing this loop. I was also getting blisters on the side of my big toes from the wet Ininji toe socks from the creek crossing. I decided that sacrificing a few minutes to re-Body Glide my feet and put on dry socks would be worth it. Preventative care is important! I hit the 13.1 mark at 3:04:30 by my Garmin. I was happy with that time.
At the end of loop 2, around the 15-mile mark, I stopped by my chair and began struggling to get my shoes off with my gaiters still attached (not very effective). I finally unhooked the back of my gaiters at least. I got my socks off, applied glide, and began the painstaking process of putting a new pair of toe socks on. This is not something that can be done quickly. You have to make sure every toe is perfectly aligned in its rightful place. I also switched the Skratch for some Tailwind with caffeine and took two extra-strength Tylenol (perfectly safe if you only do it once in a race.... except for the part of masking pain and potentially making an injury worse.). While I was sitting there, I got to see my friend Harriet finish her first trail 25K! I took off for my 3rd loop very slowly. Everything had stiffened up in that 4-5 minutes in the chair. In about 40 steps, I noticed something wasn't right with my sock. I stopped by someone else's chair and took my shoe off AGAIN to discover my pinky toe wasn't in its toe hole and that portion of the toe sock was all bunched up. That would have driven me crazy over the next 16 miles! I fixed it and was off, having lost 5-6 minutes off the clock. Oh well.....
Let me just say Tailwind Raspberry Buzz is the bomb.com. It has enough calories that you don't really have to take in anything else. At this point, I'd had about 4 gels, so I was ready for a little break from them. I started sipping on it and also had a small 1/2 cup of Coke at an aid station. I also turned on my music for the first time of the day.
Early in loop 3, I was surprised to see my buddy and race director of many of my recent Kentucky races Steve Durbin at an aid station as well as the infamous Lazarus Lake, writer/ultramarathoner/legend. He's the RD for the Barkley Marathons and author of several books. It's crazy how small and close-knit the trail and ultrarunning community is! Steve and I chatted for a minute about my upcoming races. He's the RD for my Tunnel Hill 50-miler in November. Also at the race were several awesome runners I've met at various trail races over the years--Jen, Anthony, Robin, Shannon, Rob. It's great to be a part of the trail running community and see familiar faces at races.
I don't know if it was the dry socks, the music, the Coke, the Tailwind, or the Tylenol, but the 3rd loop went well and my spirits were good. Sipping that Tailwind was a nice break from the gels and really did give me an energy buzz. Thanks to the Tylenol, everything stopped hurting, and I just felt HAPPY out on the trail. I ran mostly, hiked the hills, and just enjoyed myself. At the 20-mile mark, I texted my husband for the first time that day to let him know I was alive. Getting to 20 miles was another boost. There's something magical about the 20-mile mark. I crossed the creek a 3rd time. I knew I was going to finish this thing, and I was excited!
I didn't stop by the chair (the chair is not your friend!) after the 3rd loop. I powered on through with my now wet new socks. I texted my friends to let them know I was starting my final loop. They had gone back to the hotel and showered and to lunch after their 25K and were coming back to get me. I did some shaky calculations and figured out that if I pushed a bit, I could get a trail marathon PR on my way to finishing this 50K. So, I pushed. My half marathon was 3:04:30 and my full marathon was 6:09:38. I'm not sure how that happened, but those are pretty even splits. I thought I might slow down after the marathon point and just hike it in, but I was feeling too good. I kept pushing.
It was neat when I passed the 27-mile mark. I was in new distance territory on a trail. I began to wonder if I could finish this in under 7:10? In those last miles, I passed 9 people, most of them men. People were just done, and I was coming to life. Mile 28 was my 3rd fastest of the day. This same thing happened at my June ultra. Those later miles were my best miles. I had a couple of small cups of Coke at an aid station, but I was just drinking water in my bottles. I choked down an Accel Gel around mile 27 (strawberry kiwi) that tasted wonderful, but the consistency was tough to swallow. It contains protein and tasted just like sweetened condensed milk (if you like that sort of thing). It did seem to give me a burst of energy though. I was singing out loud and just clicking the miles off. Happy trail selfie:
In Mile 28, I realized that I was not only going to finish this thing, but I was going to surpass my original "best day ever" goal time of 7:30 by A LOT and was on track to beat 7:10. I felt strong and empowered and proud of myself. I had been in the woods running primarily alone for almost 7 hours. I had gone through a low spot and came out of the valley. Though I would finish HOURS after the winner, it was a victory for me.
I crossed that darn creek one last time, scrambled up the mud hill, and was on the finishing stretch. I knew if I pushed, I could make it under 7:05. I came out of the trail to the cheers of my friends. 7:04:32. I ran as hard as I could down the length of the parking lot on legs that already had 31.3 miles on them. I crossed the finish line of flour at 7:04:48. Whew,
It was a GOOD DAY. The looped course worked well for me mentally as it broke the race up into chunks. I'm so glad I chose Stanky Creek 50K as my first! My friend Jen and I at the finish:
I'm glad I spent some time in the dirt this weekend. I think 44 is going to be a good year.